Stepping off the walkway: A few easy steps you could take to combat injustice

A while ago, in the post Tamir Rice and the unbearable reasonableness of it all, I referenced the idea that racism, sexism and other systemic injustices are like a moving walkway. If one simply stands still, one is taken to the same undesirable and as you might encounter if you were actively pursuing racism, sexism, etc.

Here’s an example of what I mean.

  • There are fewer women in Industry A to help make Industry A a woman-welcoming environment. Why? Because…
  • …there are fewer women applying for Industry A positions, because there are fewer women pursuing Industry A related degree. Why? Because…
  • …there are fewer women who feel welcome in those programs because there are fewer women in Industry A to help make the Industry A programs a woman-welcoming environment.

If you work in Industry A, even if you are not actively against the idea of women in Industry A, not taking action means that your industry ends up in the same place as if you were actively anti-woman. There will be few women in Industry A. And while the example above is a simplified, hypothetical example, if you replaced the phrase Industry A with either Ministry or Technology, this simplified, hypothetical example would not be very far from the truth. I work in both industries.

So what can you do about it (or maybe, what can I do about it)? Here are some ideas directed at the industries in which I work, but I’m sure you can adapt to yours.

  • Say something – You can point out, in a non-anxious way, the particular moving walkway that you’re on. Here are some examples
    • “I notice that we don’t have many women in our applicant pool. What can we do to fix that?”
    • “Our industry is notorious for being unfriendly to minorities. What can we do that’s different from the stereotype here?”
    • “Our speakers seem to mostly represent a single demographic, can we broaden that?”
  • Do the same thing in a different place – Sometimes we use the same communication channels or take the same actions in the same networks and get trapped with the same results. What if you moved some of these? for example
    • You’ve probably put your job posting on local colleges’ message board. Perhaps you can also send send it to the career office of the nearest HBCU, or perhaps to the local Women in Industry A group.
    • You’ve often put the posters for your college ministry in the student center. Do you know where the Hispanic Student Group meets? How about putting some posters there?
  • Do one significant thing differently – There’s often a big difference between where our industry is, and where it should be to just and equitable. There’s a lot of changes to be made and it can seem overwhelming. Perhaps you can start with a single change. For example –
    • Consider keeping your job posting open until your applicant pool has a certain number of qualified female applicants.
    • Consider only accepting conference speaking engagements where there is at least one woman or minority on the slate.

You might be at the end of this post and thinking that I did not fulfill my promise of “easy steps”. The truth is, they will all require some bravery, and they don’t solve the entire problem of the various -isms of our society. I’m not even sure they will all work. But the step that I can guarantee will result in continued injustice is to do nothing.

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Tamir Rice and the unbearable reasonableness of it all.

A picture of a moving walkway at an airport

We know that lynch mobs are unreasonable. Two grown men coming together to beat and kill a black 14 year old boy because they think that he whistled at a white woman. That is unreasonable.

If you look at the actions in the Tamir Rice case, they all seem so reasonable especially when the situation is uncertain. You see a kid playing with something that looks like a gun, it might be a toy. You are uncertain, but it’s reasonable to call the police just in case. You’re a policeman responding to reports of someone with a gun in a public park. You are uncertain about whether this person poses a threat, but it’s reasonable to think that he might. You are on the grand jury, and you’re uncertain about what role race played in this shooting, and what the police officer perceived. So you come back with a judgement that the policeman acted reasonably.

Beverly Tatum, in her book Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together In The Cafeteria: and other conversations about race uses the metaphor of a moving walkway at an airport to describe the way racism (and other systemic problems work). If you are on a moving walkway, you can choose to walk forward, or you can choose to stand still, whichever of those choices you make, you end up moving in the same direction, and ending up at the same place. In the same way, racism and other systemic sins are self-sustaining, and you can chose to be overtly prejudiced, or you can choose not to be. In either case, the systemic part of “systemic sin” means that our perfectly reasonable choices bring us to the same place as the unreasonable choice of bigotry. With dead children, and no culpability.

The only choice, if you don’t want to go where the moving walkway of racism is taking you, is to turn around and walk backwards. To be a little unreasonable about racism, to be anti-racist. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in a speech he made in 1963 had a specific word he used for this type of unreasonableness, ”

In case you can’t hear the speech above, here’s the relevant excerpt from its transcript

Modern psychology has a word that is probably used more than any other word in modern psychology. It is the word “maladjusted.” This word is the ringing cry to modern child psychology. Certainly, we all want to avoid the maladjusted life. In order to have real adjustment within our personalities, we all want the well‐adjusted life in order to avoid neurosis, schizophrenic personalities.

But I say to you, my friends, as I move to my conclusion, there are certain things in our nation and in the world which I am proud to be maladjusted and which I hope all men of good‐will will be maladjusted until the good societies realize. I say very honestly that I never intend to become adjusted to segregation and discrimination. I never intend to become adjusted to religious bigotry. I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few.

I don’t know what it looks like in your context, but my hope for you is that you will also be maladjusted to these things. Maladjusted enough that you will choose not to simply be satisfied with the reasonable.

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Paying to ignore race

Black and white photo of a woman covering her eyes

Over the last couple of months the dynamics of race and racism have been important topics at colleges and universities across the United States, so it was interesting to see this opinion piece posted by Inside Higher Ed

“Yet these realities were too much for the administrators to handle. They were not ready to hear the truth. Hence, the report we furnished the institution was never publicly disseminated, as originally planned. Several students of color whom we interviewed contacted us months later asking where the report was because they never saw it.

The sad reality is that the administrators at this university paid us an enormous sum of money to remain in denial about its racial problems. This had happened to us before and has occurred again” – Inside Higher Ed|Paying to Ignore Racism

One of the difficult things about caring about racism, sexism, classism, etc. is that you’re likely going to be confronted with the realization that you’re not innocent of the creation of the problem you’re trying to eradicate, or that your guilt is greater than you realize. If you’re not prepared for that, you’ll probably find yourself in the same position as the administrators in this article.

Photo Credit: mellyjean via Compfight cc

Evil for Evil

Ernesto Quiñonez’s story is not about racism.

Well, that’s not true, Ernesto Quiñonez’s story is about racism. It’s also about bullying, but it’s also about how you react to race, racism, bullying and other evils. Watch the video, it’s shorter than a TED talk, and it’s worth the time.


The Moth Presents Ernesto Quiñonez: Spanish Harlem, 7th Grade – YouTube.

 It’s easy to say “Don’t repay evil for evil,” and, having some distance from Quiñonez’s story, we can easily see where lines were crossed, where evil was repaid with evil. In everyday life, the lines are not so clear, and our temptations to repay evil with evil are subtler.

I’d like to share two quotes with you that may illustrate what I mean.

The first quote is from Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. talking to Christians who were engaged in the fight against racism.

May I say just a word to those of you who are struggling against this evil. Always be sure that you struggle with Christian methods and Christian weapons. Never succumb to the temptation of becoming bitter. As you press on for justice, be sure to move with dignity and discipline, using only the weapon of love. Let no man pull you so low as to hate him. Always avoid violence. If you succumb to the temptation of using violence in your struggle, unborn generations will be the recipients of a long and desolate night of bitterness, and your chief legacy to the future will be an endless reign of meaningless chaos.

In your struggle for justice, let your oppressor know that you are not attempting to defeat or humiliate him, or even to pay him back for injustices that he has heaped upon you. Let him know that you are merely seeking justice for him as well as yourself. Let him know that the festering sore of segregation debilitates the white man as well as the Negro. With this attitude you will be able to keep your struggle on high Christian standards

The second is from Jesus

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,that you may be children of your Father in heaven.

When we are hurt, oppressed and attacked, we are tempted to defeat and humiliate our enemies. We are tempted to consider them less than human, to paint them as misinformed, idiots or malevolent. We are tempted to talk about them this way to people who will agree with us.

We are tempted to hate, but our challenge is to love.

To that effect, here are three suggestions for you to resist the temptation to hate, and embrace the challenge to love

  1. Pray for the person or people you have conflict with. Don’t just pray that they change their antagonistic behavior. Consider them as full human beings, and pray for something unrelated to the present conflict.
  2. Do something genuinely good for the person who you disagree with. Not in a way that is trying to curry favor, but something that is genuinely helpful, even if it is unacknowledged.
  3. Listen to how you and the people around you talk about your “enemies”. Are you using language that implies that they are less human or less moral than you are? Instead of talking about them as bad people, try talking about them as a good people who are currently engaging in bad behavior.

Hate is, unfortunately, cyclical. Whether you do these three things, or you do something else, my hope is that you take some action this week to break that cycle.